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Classification & Qualifications Appeal Decisions

Washington, DC

U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Classification Appeal Decision
Under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code

[Names of appellants]
Firefighter (Basic Life Support/Hazardous Materials Operations)
GS-081-7
[Appellants’ organization/location]
Commander Navy Installation Command
Department of the Navy
Firefighter (Basic Life Support/Hazardous Materials Operations)
GS-081-07
C-0081-07-04

Robert D. Hendler
Classification and Pay Claims Program Manager
Agency Compliance and Evaluation
Merit System Accountability and Compliance

11/14/2014


Date

As provided in section 511.612 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations, this decision constitutes a certificate that is mandatory and binding on all administrative, certifying, payroll, disbursing, and accounting officials of the Government.  The agency is responsible for reviewing its classification decisions for identical, similar, or related positions to ensure consistency with this decision.  There is no right of further appeal.  This decision is subject to discretionary review only under conditions and time limits specified in the Introduction to the Position Classification Standards (Introduction), appendix 4, section G (address provided in appendix 4, section H).

Decision sent to:

[Names of appellants and their representative with address]

[Name of appellants’ servicing human resources office]

 

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Civilian Human Resources)

1000 Navy Pentagon

Room 4D548

Washington, DC 20350-1000

 

Director, Workforce Relations and Compensation Division

Department of the Navy

Office of Civilian Human Resources

614 Sicard Street SE, Suite 100

Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5072

 

Director, Office of Civilian Human Resources

Department of the Navy

614 Sicard Street SE, Suite 100

Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5072

 

Compensation and Classification Program Manager

Office of Civilian Human Resources

Department of the Navy

614 Sicard Street SE, Suite 100

Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5072

 

Chief, Classification Appeals Adjudication Section

Department of Defense

Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Service

4800 Mark Center Drive, Suite 05G21

Alexandria, VA 22311

Introduction

On August 19, 2013, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Agency Compliance and Evaluation-San Francisco accepted a group classification appeal from [names of appellants], filed on their behalf by their designated union representative.  On March 5, 2014, we received the agency’s complete administrative report. The appellants’ position is currently classified as Firefighter (Basic Life Support/Hazardous Materials Operations), GS-081-7.  However, because they have frequently been called upon to act as shift “work leaders,” they believe it should be classified as Lead Firefighter (Basic Life Support/Hazardous Materials Operations), GS-081-8.  The appellants work in [name of appellants’ organization/work location], Commander Navy Installation Command (CNIC), Department of the Navy.  We have accepted and decided this appeal under section 5112(b) of title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.).

General issues

The appellants make various statements about the classification review process conducted by their agency, including the accuracy of the information provided to OPM.  In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make our own independent decision on the proper classification of this position.  By law, we must make that decision solely by comparing the appellants’ current duties and responsibilities to OPM position classification standards (PCS) and guidelines (5 U.S.C. 5106, 5107, and 5112).  Therefore, we have considered the appellants’ statements only insofar as they are relevant to making this comparison.  Because our decision sets aside all previous agency decisions, the classification practices used by appellants’ agency in classifying their position are not germane to the classification appeal process.  

Position information

Both the appellants and their supervisor have certified to the accuracy of the appellants’ official position description (PD), [number].  We note this is a standard PD which the agency uses throughout multiple Navy stations/bases in the San Diego metropolitan area.  It is used at a variety of installations carrying out fire and emergency services, including shipboard, structural, and airfield firefighting.  While the appellants do not perform shipboard firefighting, it describes the firefighting duties relevant to the appellants’ position at their installation.  The appellants are assigned to a crew engaged in airfield and structural firefighting, and may also be called upon to perform rescue and hazardous materials (HAZMAT) operations, administer basic life support (BLS) medical treatment, and assist in reducing and/or eliminating potential fire hazards.  Their duties include driving and operating complex emergency firefighting vehicles (e.g., pumpers, aerial ladder trucks) used in structural and airfield firefighting and crash-rescue operations.  They participate in controlling and extinguishing fires by operating hoses, pumps, ladders, and hydrants, and perform firefighting duties at airfields handling aircraft carrying large volumes of fuel, weapons, flammable cargo, or large number of air moves with high crash or fire potential.  Their supervisors make individual assignments to perform the above duties for designated shifts based on the skill, cross training, and certification of each firefighter.  Pre-shift briefings provide information on previous incidents and general instructions.  The appellants independently carry out recurring assignments.  Completed work is reviewed for adequacy, adherence to standard procedures and methods, and compliance with training and instructions.

During their work shifts the appellants are primarily assigned to a vehicle in the role of driver/operator, firefighter engineer, or firefighter pumper.  They are subject to exposure to hazardous materials, are trained to use personal protective equipment and clothing as appropriate, and are prepared to perform hazardous material operations by controlling a situation.  They hold HAZMAT Operations Level certifications. 

The appellants are also trained and perform Emergency Medical Technician-Basic duties (EMT-B), and are prepared to assist with injuries and emergency medical calls.  They perform initial patient assessment and determine what can be administered to the patient without invasive treatment; e.g., treating victims of stroke or heart attack, splinting and immobilizing broken bones, or controlling external bleeding.  They are trained to use medical equipment, such as the automatic external defibrillation (AED), and to administer drugs such as oxygen, nitroglycerin tablets for chest pain, Albuterol inhalers for asthma, and Epinephrine auto-injections for allergic reactions.  They are certified to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and trained to deliver babies.  As EMT-B certified firefighters they are responsible for maintaining and re-supplying a medical bag. 

In reaching our classification decision, we have carefully reviewed all information furnished by the appellants and their agency, including the official PD, which we find is sufficient for purposes of classification in describing the appellants’ assigned duties and responsibilities at [name of installation], and incorporate it by reference into this decision.  In addition, to help decide the appeal we conducted separate telephone interviews with several available appellants and their immediate supervisor, the Assistant Fire Chief.

Series, title, and standard determination

The agency has classified the appellants’ position in the Fire Protection and Prevention Series, GS-0081, titling it Firefighter, GS-081-7 (Basic Life Support/Hazardous Materials Operations). The appellants agree with the basic title (including parenthetical titles) and series of their position.  However, by application of the General Schedule Leader Grade Evaluation Guide (GSLGEG), Part I, they believe they function as work leaders and thus the prefix “Lead” should be added to the basic title, which would increase the position’s grade to the GS-8 level.  For the reasons discussed below, we concur with the agency’s assignment of basic title and series.

Part I of the GSLGEG (hereafter referred to as the “leader guide”) is used to classify positions of work leaders who, as a regular and recurring part of their assignment, lead three or more employees in clerical or other one-grade interval occupations in the General Schedule (GS) in accomplishing work.  Work leaders also perform work that is usually of the same kind and level as that done by the team led.

Under the installation’s firefighting operating standards, a Lead Firefighter, GS-081-8, (also called “crew chief”) leads a team of GS-7 firefighters in performing all aspects of fire prevention, suppression, and first response emergency services; e.g., basic life support.  The designated leaders lead the team in dealing with emergency incidents such as structural fires, aircraft crashes, and hazardous materials incidents, as well as performing fire protection inspections, routine maintenance and minor repair of fire pumps, fire hoses, and in the operation, deployment, and use of all assigned firefighting equipment; e.g., hoses, ladders, fire engines, etc.  Lead firefighters also act as onsite incident commanders when responding to fire and emergency situations, including determining and documenting emergency care needs, assessing possible hazardous contamination, and directing firefighting personnel at the scene in all operations.

The appellants believe their position should be classified as Lead Firefighter, GS-081-8, because particularly from 2011 through most of 2013, they frequently were assigned to “fill-in” as acting crew chiefs in the absence of designated GS-8 level leaders for various shifts.  However, since 2013 their utilization as acting work leaders has dramatically diminished.  Both the information of record and our interviews indicate that during the period noted above the appellants did perform the duties of a work leader in the absence of the designated shift work leaders who were either on sick or annual leave.  The agency maintains that such utilization of the appellants as work leaders in the past and present occurred merely on a “fill-in” basis and does not constitute a “regular and recurring” part of their assignment.  However, the appellants contend that due to the frequency of such “fill-in” assignments which the agency regularly scheduled, the leader duties should be considered “regular and recurring,” thus impacting the grade of their position. 

The record shows that as a result of a recent, multi-year reduction-in-force (RIF) within the fire department, the number of fire-fighting apparatuses was reduced from seven to three, resulting in a re-alignment of the number of crew chief positions, and assigning a former battalion chief position to permanently serve as a crew chief.  Our interviews and record information disclosed that there are currently seven separate work schedules.   Each of these schedules constitutes a set group of workers, with a designated work leader (GS-8 Lead Firefighter) assigned to it, along with three to four other firefighters (all GS-7 Firefighters).  Each work schedule constitutes a 48-hour shift followed by 72 hours off-duty.  The various work schedules are set in a staggered fashion such that on any given work day there are three schedules on-duty.  Agency policy mandates that [name of installation] shall be staffed with a minimum of eight crew chiefs.  Currently, there are seven crew chiefs (i.e., the designated GS-8 work leaders), plus a Battalion Chief permanently assigned to work as a crew chief.  As such, [name of installation] is fully staffed under agency policy with respect to the number of work leaders needed to staff designated shifts.  Therefore, while the appellants may have frequently been called upon to function as acting work leaders in the absence of the designated leader due to his/her official leave, the appellants’ leader assignments were on an intermittent basis in response to the immediate absence of an assigned shift work leader. 

Established OPM guidance on the evaluation of GS-081 “fill-in” work is that work performed in the absence of another employee who is on sick or annual leave may not contribute toward grade-level credit.  This is particularly true of supervisory and leader duties which have ongoing technical and administrative responsibility for their respective crews.  A “fill-in” employee is not expected and is typically not permitted to exercise the full range of administrative leader and supervisory functions.  This is in consonance with the fundamental classification principle articulated in the Introduction, III. K., that work which is temporary or short term or performed in the absence of another employee cannot be considered paramount for grade level purposes.  Therefore, this work is not creditable regardless of any consideration of how "regular and recurring" it may be. 

As discussed above, given the temporary nature of the appellants' work leader assignments, their position cannot be graded by reference to the GSLGEG.  Therefore, to evaluate the grade of their work, we have applied the grading criteria in Part II of the GS-081 position classification standard (PCS). 

Grade determination

Part II of the GS-081 PCS describes grade-level criteria for evaluating non-supervisory firefighter positions for grades GS-3 to GS-9.  Although the GS-081 PCS describes a variety of different grade controlling duties for each grade level, we have limited our discussion to evaluation of those regular and recurring duties relevant to the appellants’ position.  The agency found the appellants firefighting duties supportable at the GS-7 level based on their basic life support duties, and the appellants do not disagree with this determination.  Based on careful analysis of the record, we concur based on the following analysis.

Firefighter positions are treated somewhat differently than other General Schedule (GS) occupations in determining their grade controlling duties.  In order for higher-graded work to be grade controlling in most GS positions, it must be performed for at least 25 percent of the time.  In contrast, an emergency work rule applies to firefighters.  Because firefighters respond to emergencies, the 25 percent rule in their case does not require actual performance of the higher-graded work 25 percent of the time.  Rather, it requires that (1) the work be actually performed, or (2) be assigned, as on a work shift, to be performed, or (3) the firefighter be trained to perform the higher-level work, for a total of 25 percent or more of the firefighter’s work time.  Thus, for firefighters, being “ready to perform” by maintaining a state of readiness as the designated employee to perform the higher-graded duties is the key difference in applying the 25 percent rule for emergency work. 

At the GS-6 level, firefighters must drive and operate firefighting apparatus of significant complexity; e.g., pumpers, aerial ladder trucks, and crash rescue trucks.  This requires driving the vehicle to the scene of the fire and positioning the vehicle to consider factors, such as wind direction, water sources, hazards from falling structures, or location of armaments on aircraft.  The driver/operator operates the pumps, foam generators, nozzles, and other similar equipment; determines proper pressure and number of hoses to be used; and applies principles of hydraulics to water flow.  When operating a crash truck, the firefighter maneuvers the vehicle to keep the fire in optimum range while ensuring that backflash will not occur.  The firefighter maintains a constant awareness of water levels in self-contained tanks and warns handline and rescue personnel when tanks are close to running dry.  They assist in training other firefighters in the skills of driving and operating the equipment.  The GS-6 level firefighter may also combat fires on ships, although this situation does not apply to the appellants’ assignment. 

The appellants’ driver/operator duties fully meet the GS-6 level.  Like this level, they are responsible for ensuring the vehicle is safe for driving, functional, and equipped for an emergency.  When called out, they drive the vehicle to the scene of the fire following a predetermined route, and operate pumps, nozzles, and other similar equipment; determine the proper pressure, distances and the number of lines to be used; and control water flow.  Similar to the GS-6 level, when operating the crash truck they maneuver the vehicle to ensure backflash will not occur, and monitor water levels in self-contained tanks.  They assist in training others in this capacity and are certified as Driver-Operators for Pumper and Airport Rescue Firefighting (ARFF) vehicles. 

The GS-081 PCS also describes a Firefighter (Hazardous Materials Operations), GS-6.  In addition to general firefighting duties and responsibilities, firefighters engaged in hazardous materials operations also react to the presence or potential releases of hazardous materials as part of the initial response to the site to protect nearby persons, property, or the environment from the effects of a release.  They employ hazard and risk assessment techniques to complete initial incident analysis by surveying the incident to identify the materials involved; collect hazard and response information from appropriate sources, such as hazardous material placards; predict the likely behavior of a material and container; and estimate the potential harm.  They establish communication with responsible agencies to request qualified assistance, then plan and begin the initial response within the capabilities of the available personnel and personal protective and control equipment.  They establish and enforce scene control procedures including control zones and decontamination; utilize hazardous materials response equipment and supplies including protective clothing, breathing apparatus, dry and extinguishing chemicals, and decontamination agents and equipment; and initiate an incident management system.  Furthermore, they evaluate the success and effectiveness of the ongoing action; assist hazardous materials technicians and other personnel; and maintain and decontaminate common hazardous materials response equipment and supplies; e.g., protective clothing, breathing apparatus, decontamination agents. 

The appellants’ position fully meets the hazardous materials operations duties described at the GS-6 level.  Like this level, they are trained and prepared to perform hazardous materials operations by controlling a situation with defensive means known as dam, dike, and divert.  They survey the incident to identify the materials involved and if hazardous materials have been released, use equipment and techniques to perform the initial incident analysis.  They initiate safe zones to protect people from the source and keep it from spreading (scene control), and use hazardous materials equipment and supplies for containment and clean-up.  They also assist hazardous materials technicians who are called in to enter the “hot zone” to stop the source.

In addition to the firefighter and first responder duties and responsibilities described at the GS-6 level above, firefighters at the Firefighter (Basic Life Support), GS-7 level follow protocols in providing basic life support.  The firefighter performs emergency procedures that are noninvasive, such as performing initial and on-going focused patient assessment and physical examination; determining priority of patient care based on assessment findings; and taking, recording, and monitoring patient’s baseline vital signs including temperature, blood pressure, and pulse.  They manage respiratory and cardiac emergencies to include performing CPR, bag-valve-mask resuscitation, or AED.  They control external bleeding with direct pressure, treat shock with pneumatic anti-shock garments, and assist patients in taking emergency medications for certain complaints; e.g., nitroglycerin tablets, Epinephrine auto-injections, or Albuterol inhalers, under the direction of standing orders or of a physician.  They assist intermediate or paramedic life support staff and prepare appropriate and relevant patient care documentation and reports, and employ a variety of established emergency medical techniques, methods, and equipment to stabilize the patient for transport as soon as possible to the receiving facility.

The appellants fully meet the basic life support duties typical of the GS-7 level.  Like this level, in performing emergency medical care, the appellants check the windpipe for obstructions, use direct pressure and tourniquets to stop bleeding, perform CPR, and immobilize the patient for safe transport.  Similar to the GS-7 level, in providing basic life support the appellants determine the condition of the patient by performing a head to toe physical assessment without using invasive procedures.  Vital signs are checked every five minutes for critical patients and every 15 for a stable patient; e.g., twisted ankle.  They use the triage system when assessing more than one patient to determine priority for care.  They obtain a drug history from the patient to make sure the patient is not allergic to any medications and record it on a patient care report (PCR).  They assist the patient in administering medications such as nitroglycerin, Epinephrine, and Albuterol.  They are also qualified to administer some drugs such as oxygen and glucose.  If an injury affects the neck or back, they prepare the patient with a cervical collar and backboard for proper immobilization before transport. 

Like the GS-7 level, the appellants treat victims for shock and splint fractures.  They sometimes drive and/or accompany patients in the ambulance and are responsible for notifying the doctor with facts regarding their patients, delivering the CPR and estimated arrival time.  Although there is no paramedic at the duty location, the appellants assist those from the local area ambulance companies.  As the EMT-B, they use and maintain care of medical equipment such as backboards, suction devices (e.g., v-vac), splints, oxygen delivery systems, defibrillator, and other supplies.  Biohazard materials are disposed of in their own “red bag.”  They must also maintain a medical bag, including an obstetrics (OB) kit for delivering babies, ensuring both are properly and adequately supplied.  They are trained on and use the AED for respiratory and cardiac emergencies and hold certifications for CPR and EMT-B. 

To determine whether the appellants meet the 25 percent rule unique to firefighters for the various grade levels of work described in their PD, we conducted in-depth interviews with the installation fire department management.  Management attests their primary duties include functioning in excess of 25 percent of their time as GS-6 level certified driver/operators of engines, pumpers, and crash trucks (and operating pumps, nozzles and other equipment) which they are specifically assigned to perform during each of their work shifts.  They constantly maintain, perform checks, operate, and train with the firefighting apparatus during their designated shifts.      

The record also shows that hazardous materials operations work at the GS-6 level and basic life support work at the GS-7 level each comprise at least 25 percent of the appellants’ duties.  The supervisor indicated that actual incidents requiring hazardous materials operations occur approximately “one to two times a month” and actual incidents involving basic life support occur approximately “one to two times a day.”  Furthermore, the agency conducts at least one simulated incident training drill each work shift.  These drills typically involve the full spectrum of incident response tasks that the firefighters at [name of installation] are qualified to conduct.  Such tasks always include hazardous materials operations and basic life support activities, as well as more routine firefighter and driver/operator work tasks.  The appellants have also met the agency’s hazardous materials operations certification requirements and are fully trained/certified and capable of performing the full range of basic life support duties.    

We find the appellants perform a combination of GS-6 level driver/operator and hazardous materials operations work, and also perform the full scope of GS-7 level basic life support duties and responsibilities.  At both the GS-6 and 7 levels, their work includes carrying out the preceding duties by actual performance, by assignment on a work shift to be performed, or in training to perform the higher level work for a total of 25 percent or more of the respective work time of each appellant.  The record shows the appellants are not assigned to and do not perform the intermediate life support or fire inspection programmatic duties found at the GS-8 level in the GS-081 PCS.  Therefore, the appellants’ position is properly graded at the GS-7 level.

Decision

The appellants’ position is properly classified as Firefighter (Basic Life Support/Hazardous Materials Operations), GS-081-7. 

 

 

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